NRL News

Selected Out of Existence

by | Jun 29, 2011

By Dave Andrusko

Slowly but surely one of the most outrageous violations of human rights is beginning to seep into public consciousness: the massive loss of female babies due to sex-selection abortion made possible by ultrasounds. We wrote about this most recently earlier this month—“The Persistence of Sex-Selective Abortion and the Silence of Pro-Abortion Feminists”.

The past week two stunning insightful reviews appeared based on the same source as were my comments: The book, “Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men,” by journalist Mara Hvistendahl. I will provide the highlights of each along with the links.

“160 Million and Counting,” written by Ross Douthat, appeared in the New York Times (

In many ways the most important insight was contained in the first two paragraphs.

Twenty years ago the economist Amartya Sen published an essay in The New York Review of Books “with a bombshell title: ‘More Than 100 Million Women Are Missing.’” Not a word about abortion; the explanation for “wildly off-kilter sex ratios” in the developing world was attributed to “neglect” of women Douthat writes.

Two decades later the number of missing women is up to more than 160 million, and as the title of  the new book suggest, “Hvistendahl argues that most of the missing females weren’t victims of neglect,” Douthat writes, “They were selected out of existence, by ultrasound technology and second-trimester abortion.”

Typically—and understandably—virtually the entire blame for the spread of sex-selective abortions is laid at the feet of deeply patriarchal cultures empowered by technology to “weed out” females. And while certainly part of the explanation, a major point of Hvistendahl’s book is that in many communities, “’women use their increased autonomy to select for sons,’ because male offspring bring higher social status,” according to Douthat. This mindset has begun, in countries like India, “in the urban, well-educated stratum of society” before it filters down to those who occupy a lower rung on the income ladder.

One additional observation from Douthat: “Western governments and philanthropic institutions have their fingerprints all over the story of the world’s missing women.”  He writes, “For many of these antipopulation campaigners, sex selection was a feature rather than a bug, since a society with fewer girls was guaranteed to reproduce itself at lower rates.” This slaughter is not entirely or perhaps even largely, indigenous: it was aided and abetted by “progressives” from the West.

Jonathan Last, a senior writer for the Weekly Standard, reviewed the book for the Wall Street Journal.

 He begins with the basic, basics—the “biologically ironclad” ratio in nature: 105 boys are born for every 100 girls.

“Yet today in India there are 112 boys born for every 100 girls,” he writes. “In China, the number is 121—though plenty of Chinese towns are over the 150 mark. China’s and India’s populations are mammoth enough that their outlying sex ratios have skewed the global average to a biologically impossible 107. But the imbalance is not only in Asia. Azerbaijan stands at 115, Georgia at 118 and Armenia at 120.”

The lethal logic is inescapable, if the objective is to have sons. The ratios are pretty unremarkable for the first child but by the time we get to third births there are 185 males for every 100 girls and for fourth-born children of parents desperate for a son a “mind-boggling 209” males.

The outcomes are equally inexorable—a spike in violence among populations seething with unattached men; a bidding war for women; men in wealthier countries “poach women from poorer ones,” to name just three.  But, “as Columbia economics professor Lena Edlund observes: ‘The greatest danger associated with prenatal sex determination is the propagation of a female underclass,’ that a small but still significant group of the world’s women will end up being stolen or sold from their homes and forced into prostitution or marriage.”

Both Douthat and Last make clear that Hvistendahl hardly has a pro-life agenda. Rather than stopping (because of its intrinsic evil) the purposive killing of 163 million—and growing daily—women from sex-selective abortions, something must be done or it could lead, Hvistendahl writes, to “feminists’ worst nightmare: a ban on all abortions.”

Last writes, “Even though 163 million girls have been denied life solely because of their gender, she can’t help seeing the problem through the lens of an American political issue.” (She is “particularly worried,” Last observes, “that the ‘right wing’ or the ‘Christian right’—as she labels those whose politics differ from her own—will use sex-selective abortion as part of a wider war on abortion itself.”)

So the trick for Ms. Hvistendahl is to come up with “some suggestions as to how such ‘abuse’ might be curbed without infringing on a woman’s right to have an abortion,” Last writes,

“In attempting to serve these two diametrically opposed ideas, she proposes banning the common practice of revealing the sex of a baby to parents during ultrasound testing. And not just ban it, but have rigorous government enforcement, which would include nationwide sting operations designed to send doctors and ultrasound techs and nurses who reveal the sex of babies to jail. Beyond the police surveillance of obstetrics facilities, doctors would be required to ‘investigate women carrying female fetuses more thoroughly’ when they request abortions, in order to ensure that their motives are not illegal.

“Such a regime borders on the absurd. It is neither feasible nor tolerable—nor efficacious: Sex determination has been against the law in both China and India for years, to no effect. I suspect that Ms. Hvistendahl’s counter-argument would be that China and India do not enforce their laws rigorously enough.”

Last’s conclusion is so tightly reasoned I have to quote it in its entirety.

“Despite the author’s intentions, ‘Unnatural Selection’ might be one of the most consequential books ever written in the campaign against abortion. It is aimed, like a heat-seeking missile, against the entire intellectual framework of ‘choice.’ For if ‘choice’ is the moral imperative guiding abortion, then there is no way to take a stand against ‘gendercide.’ Aborting a baby because she is a girl is no different from aborting a baby because she has Down syndrome or because the mother’s “mental health” requires it. Choice is choice. One Indian abortionist tells Ms. Hvistendahl: “I have patients who come and say ‘I want to abort because if this baby is born it will be a Gemini, but I want a Libra.’ “

“This is where choice leads. This is where choice has already led. Ms. Hvistendahl may wish the matter otherwise, but there are only two alternatives: Restrict abortion or accept the slaughter of millions of baby girls and the calamities that are likely to come with it.”

Categories: Abortion